The Top-Secret History of No Name Girl

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Khenbish's Nerguitani (which translates as "Nobody's daughter, No Name Girl") is a talented but unusually sheltered hereditary shaman from the remote valleys of the Altai. Based on a seer's prophecy, she is called into the service of Great Khan Ogedei, son of the late Genghis (may he ride forever in the sky), as a rookie spy in the Greater Mongol Intelligence Agency.

Her missions are extremely dangerous --- but to be fair, the 13th century Mongol Empire doesn't really have any other kind. It's the most extensive empire in history, before or since. Even as it continues to grow (in the name of uniting humanity and making the world safe for travel and trade) by both negotiated alliance and conquest, the annexed lands have to be provisioned and protected. "Conquest is easy," Genghis once told his sons, "The hard part is getting off the horse and governing." But by the grace of Tengri, anything might be possible...


My original idea was to pay homage to Season 2 of the Turkish historical drama "Resurrection: Ertugrul" in a way that I hoped wouldn't unduly incense the reverent. Baycu (Baiju) Noyan, a historical Mongol general, was the season's main villain (definitely not a Muslim saint, so fair game). As played inimitably by Barış Bağcı, the Noyan committed shocking atrocities with a certain flair that was like Super Glue on viewers' eyeballs. Some of his deeds on the show, though, seemed to make no strategic or tactical sense. I got the idea that he could be a Kurtz (from "Heart of Darkness" or "Apocalypse Now," take your pick) who'd been in-country far from home too long and strayed off every known map, becoming a potential liability to his own government. My protagonist would be the one sent to Do Something About It, and on the way she would encounter the Catch-22s, SNAFUs and FUBARs from which no army --- or perhaps no sufficiently large organization --- escapes.

On the way I discovered a few things:

1. Mongols, as chronicled by outsiders, are usually all fists and 'nads; the ultimate brainless bullies. Their hearts and minds get short shrift even in modern productions from countries with no axe to grind (I'll leave it to Comment contributors to exhaustively list all the exceptions; they're good at that). In fact (meaning "according to some historical sources," which I admit is a pretty loose use of the term "fact"), they displayed humanitarian motivation and religious devotion comparable to those of the people they fought... and they had intellect and culture for DAYS...

2. Speaking of short shrift: Ogedei who? In the West, Genghis (Ogedei's dad) and Kublai (his nephew) get all the love. Some historians have even written off Ogedei as ineffectual (as if Genghis's act were one anybody could follow), or even as a worthless drunk. Come on! During his lifetime, Ogedei kept that huge empire together, built a new capital, set up the fastest communication system in the medieval world, made it safe (by the standards of the time) to travel between Europe and China, and much more. Show me a worthless drunk who can do that, and I'll have what he's having.

3. The Mongol Empire offered women more opportunities to contribute brains, brawn and bravery (besides bread, butter, and babies) than most, or maybe all, other 13th century cultures. They were welcome in the army (that foot up your butt may have painted toenails, boys), in the intelligence and communications services, and almost every Khanate was ruled by an Empress Regent at one time or another. It definitely wasn't perfect, but it was one of the nicest tries going on at the time.

4. Most written records of the Mongols that survive today were written long after the events took place, and written by people who... hmm... might have had a bit of resentment toward them. I happen to enjoy the daylights out of research now that I can do most of it from home in my underwear (though I never turn down an invitation to tiptoe through hushed and hidden Restricted Stacks known to but a few). But conflicts and blank spaces, so frustrating to the serious academic, can fuel the imagination of the frivolous fabricator of fables...


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